1) Avoid the use of “rollover budgeting” tactics. If your district is using rollover budgeting to manage technology purchases and related expenses, “you’re doing yourself a disservice,” says Plumbtree, who defines rollover budgeting as taking fiscal year (FY) 2014’s budget and just assuming you’ll spend the same amount of money in 2015. “No two years are the same,” says Plumbtree. When it comes time to lay out the budget for the coming year, she says the best approach is to simply start at zero and look at every line of your budget to figure out what running a good department for the next 12 months will actually cost. “The key is to buy what you actually need,” says Plumbtree, “instead of assuming that last year was ‘enough.’” Using the zeroing-out strategy can also help ed tech departments save money. “Just because you spent $50,000 on a certain contract last year,” says Plumbtree, doesn’t mean you need the same amount this coming year. But if you just keep rolling things over, you’ll never know.”
2) Renegotiate your maintenance contracts regularly. If you’re using maintenance contracts with any of your vendors, Plumbtree suggests negotiating those agreements upfront in order to keep the related costs at bay. If those contracts include licensing fees, maintenance fees, or some other type of cost, for example, she says a good strategy is to negotiate a 2- or 3-year contract in advance. “This can help you keep down some of the costs that you know are going to increase every year,” she says.
3) Carefully consider the “lease versus buy” decision. “A lot of districts have negative views on leasing equipment, but there are benefits to taking this route,” says Plumbtree. For example, if your department doesn’t have the money to shell out upfront to buy the machines or equipment outright, then leasing—even if it does wind up costing more over time—may be the best choice. “When you lease, you can spread the payments out over several years and effectively support your entity without having to use up your entire budget,” says Plumbtree. “If you don’t have the cash flow right now, and if you don’t have access to financing, then leasing may be the answer.”
4) Consider outsourcing. Some districts are large enough to be able to handle all of their ed tech requirements in-house. Others could use a little outside assistance, says Plumbtree, who advises schools to look at their own internal capabilities and resources before making this decision. Some of the work that can be outsourced include technology helpdesk support, technology infrastructure support, curriculum/instruction development, and professional development, to name a few. “Whether you enlist outside service providers or not is a very individual decision,” she says. “It really depends on your own in-house expertise. If it’s lacking in any area, there are a lot of outside providers that can help when doing things in-house just doesn’t make sense anymore.
5) Keep ed tech in the limelight. It’s easy for technology to fall into the background, especially when the technology tools, applications, and equipment are working well and doing what they’re supposed to do. But just like the company that shouldn’t ignore its new client pipeline—even when business is booming—ed tech departments must focus on the future. “Make sure EdTech stays part of the conversation, particularly at the school board and management levels,” says Plumbtree, who points to equipment replacement and technology standards/policies as two areas that should remain top-of-mind. “Ed tech won’t be forgotten or overlooked if you talk about these issues at the board level and create policies around the most important points.”